Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s Defense Secretary, Says it’s “Time for Guantánamo to Close its Doors,” as DoD Announces New Military Commission Charges

Gen. Lloyd Austin at his Senate confirmation hearing as defense secretary in President Biden’s administration, Jan. 19, 2021, and a photo of Camp 6 at Guantánamo.

 

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In a flurry of activity on his first day in office, President Biden issued 17 executive orders, undoing some of the worst policy disasters of his predecessor, Donald Trump — including rejoining the Paris climate accord, stopping the US’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, reversing Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and canceling the much-criticized Keystone XL pipeline.

Yesterday, in what the Guardian described as “a sweeping new set of climate executive orders,” he instructed the US government “to pause and review all oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and transform the government’s vast fleet of cars and trucks into electric vehicles.”

Missing in all this commendable activity, sadly, is anything relating to the prison at Guantánamo Bay. As Vice President, Joe Biden was with President Obama 12 years ago, on January 22, 2009, when he issued Executive Order 13492, promising to close Guantánamo, which was undone by Trump in Executive Order 13823 — the absurdly-named “Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists” — on January 30, 2018.

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Close Guantánamo: Lawyers Decry Broken Military Commission System and Status of “Forever Prisoners” in Washington Post Op-Ed

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the US Congress on Monday January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison. (Photo by Alli Jarrar of Amnesty International).

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As the 19th anniversary of the the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay recedes, and the inauguration of Joe Biden hoves into view, it remains crucial that all of us who oppose the continued existence of Guantánamo continue to discuss the 40 men still held there, the inadequacy of the status of all of them (six approved for release but still held, nine charged or tried in a broken trial system, and 25 consigned to oblivion as “forever prisoners”), and to demand its closure.

On the anniversary, along with the various online events and interviews, Newsweek distinguished itself by being the only mainstream US media outlet to focus on the anniversary, publishing a powerful op-ed by former prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi, which I posted the day after on the Close Guantánamo website.

The only other mainstream media coverage I’ve found came the day after the anniversary in the Washington Post, where two attorneys with the Military Commissions Defense Organization, civilian defense counsel Brian Bouffard, and Aaron Shepard, a lieutenant commander in the US Navy JAG Corps, wrote what really ought to be an epitaph for Guantánamo’s broken military commission trial system, and for the rotten policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial that is the main hallmark of Guantánamo’s unforgivable exceptionalism, as the prison begins its 20th year of operations. The op-ed is cross-posted below.

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“High-Value Detainee” Hambali Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Hambali (Riduan Isamuddin), photographed at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 18, Hambali, a “high-value detainee” held at Guantánamo since September 2006, became the 60th Guantánamo prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and the last of 64 reviews will be taking place next week. To date, 33 men have been approved for release, while just 19 men have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. Eleven further decisions have yet to be taken. For further details, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

Hambali, an Indonesian born in April 1964, was born Encep Nurjaman, but is also known as Riduan Isamuddin. In the US government’s unclassified summary for his PRB, he was described as “an operational mastermind in the Southeast Asia-based Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI),” who “served as the main interface between JI and al-Qa’ida from 2000 until his capture in mid-2003.”

Hambali was seized in Bangkok, Thailand in August 2003, with another “high-value detainee,” Mohammed Bashir bin Lap aka Lillie (ISN 10022), whose review took place three weeks ago, in the same week as another of Hambali’s associates, Mohd Farik bin Amin aka Zubair (ISN 10021). Read the rest of this entry »

Despite His Conviction Being Quashed Three Times, Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul Remains in Solitary Confinement

Guantanamo prisoner Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For some prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it seems there really is no way out. One example would seem to be Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a 45-year old Yemeni prisoner and a propagandist for al-Qaeda, who made a promotional video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, and who received a life sentence for providing material support for terrorism, conspiring with al-Qaeda and soliciting murder after a one-sided military commission trial in the dying days of the Bush administration.

Al-Bahlul has been held in solitary confinement ever since — on what is known as “Convicts’ Corridor,” according to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, even though, since January 2013, he has had every part of his conviction overturned in the US courts — most recently in a ruling by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) on June 12.

In January 2013, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the material support and solicitation convictions, on the basis that the charges of which he was convicted were not recognized as war crimes at the time he was accused of committing them; or, to put it another way, that they had been invented as war crimes by Congress. That ruling drew on a ground-breaking ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court three months earlier, overturning the material support conviction against another man, Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed in December 2008. The decision in al-Bahlul’s case was confirmed by a full panel of judges in July 2014, and the judges last month overturned the conspiracy conviction — on the basis that conspiracy is not a crime under the international law of war. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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